Christianity 201

July 28, 2021

Are You an Outlaw, A Lawyer, or a Lover?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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At Christianity 201, we’ve had a long relationship with Rev. Kevin Rogers, a pastor in Western Ontario, Canada whose writing appears at The Orphan Age. This is excerpts from a 4-part series. To read the introduction, where he sets up the distinction click this link. He says,

I see three categories of people when it comes to the acceptance and application of God’s law—we are all outlaws, lawyers or lovers.

To read the individual parts in full, click the headers which follow.

Outlaws

Outlaw culture is often glorified, and we all learned it early in life…So what does it mean to be an outlaw?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary says:

1 : a person excluded from the benefit or protection of the law

2a : a lawless person or a fugitive from the law

b : a person or organization under a ban or restriction

c : one that is unconventional or rebellious

Some perceived Jesus to be an outlaw based on his application of God’s Law. He and the disciples picked grain to eat on the Sabbath, brought healing to many on the Sabbath, did not always wash their hands before eating, association with people deemed unclean and a daily myriad of offenses drummed up by the faultfinders.

In spite of what the authorized experts had to say, Jesus was not an outlaw.

Matthew 5:

17 “Do not think I have come to get rid of what is written in the Law or in the Prophets. I have not come to do this. Instead, I have come to fulfill what is written. 18 What I’m about to tell you is true. Heaven and earth will disappear before the smallest letter disappears from the Law. Not even the smallest mark of a pen will disappear from the Law until everything is completed.

It is when we determine that laws are unfair, unattainable or illegitimate that we are tempted by outlawry. It’s easy enough to find reasons to minimize or defy human laws, but what about God’s Law? There are many outlaws that choose to live in opposition or resignation to what they perceive to be an unrealistic or impossible standard.

The Greek word for sin is hamartia. It is an archery term that means your arrow did not land on the target. When we recognize that we are sinners, we admit that our arrow went astray or dropped to the ground before the ideal target that God gives us to aim for.

Jesus came to hit the bullseye and inspire us to have an improved aim. We are to learn from the ways that fall short and allow God to perfect our aim. You may have given up on basketball or piano lessons, but the reason to learn God’s ways are not trivial options. God’s ways are a matter of life and death in a very real cosmic and earthly sense.

Every outlaw must live by a code that supports their values and will be deemed heroic by those sharing those values. But you cannot love God and at the same time have a complete disregard for the things God says. To know and disregard the law of God is to be truly lawless.

1 John 3:

Everyone who sins breaks the law. In fact, breaking the law is sin. But you know that Christ came to take our sins away. And there is no sin in him. No one who remains joined to him keeps on sinning. No one who keeps on sinning has seen him or known him.

Dear children, don’t let anyone lead you astray. The person who does what is right is holy, just as Christ is holy. The person who does what is sinful belongs to the devil. That’s because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the devil’s work.

In recognizing that your aim is off, the key remedy is remaining joined to Jesus. As we  understand what Christ is doing, we find that he is taking away our lawless instincts. He is mending our broken bow and showing us how to aim true and hit the target. It is in our mimicry and imitation of Christ’s ways that we see through the fog and shoot for the bullseye. The apostle Paul understood this implicitly when he said,

1 Corinthians 11:

Follow my example, just as I follow the example of Christ.

Lawyers

If the outlaw faces judgment, he is going to need a good defence lawyer. A lawyer will endeavour to prove that his client is not guilty, or at least not maliciously intent on breaking a law. The problem is that there will also be a prosecuting lawyer whose aim it is to prove that you are guilty.

There is an interesting phenomenon that happens to people trying to live up to God’s standards. If they are not rightly motivated inwardly, they will get obsessive about hacking their aim and telling others that they are the masters that can teach others how to achieve their spiritual aims.

It’s exactly the old adage that those who can’t, teach.

Matthew 23:

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples. “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” he said. “So you must be careful to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do. They don’t practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry. Then they put them on other people’s shoulders. But they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.

Watch out for people that try to load you down with high expectations but don’t offer any understanding or relief for the burden they lay on you. They may be legalistic in their passion for definition, but inwardly lack the law of God. They may have the authority to wield the law, but are more interested in winning their case than being personally answerable for the consequences that ensue.

Matthew 7:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Lawyers are often great communicators and can weave a story line that will either condemn or excuse a lawbreaker.

Watch my life carefully. I may appear to be a masterful persuader and still have a lawless heart. Fortunately, you will not have to answer for me. I stand before the one true judge that can truly condemn me or save me. Don’t be naïve and do look out for the Pharisaical lawyer in me and for the one in you.

Fortunately, God has mercy for outlaws and for self-righteous lawyers. Otherwise, we would be surely doomed.

Romans 9:

30 What should we say then? Gentiles did not look for a way to be right with God. But they found it by having faith. 31 The people of Israel tried to obey the law to make themselves right with God. But they didn’t reach their goal of being right with God. 32 Why not? Because they tried to do it without faith. They tried to be right with God by what they did. They tripped over the stone that causes people to trip and fall. 33 It is written,

“Look! In Zion I am laying a stone that causes people to trip.
    It is a rock that makes them fall.
    The one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

Imagine that. Your faith in the goodness and mercy of God is the bullseye. Jesus died to save outlaws and lawyers and we are both.

Lovers

In essence, you become what you love. When it comes to the Law of God, are you a lover of His Law? You will not become Christlike if you do not love God.

If it’s true that we all fail to hit the target, there must be something that Jesus wants to teach us. When you are being coached in some ability, it is easy to get overwhelmed and distracted. So what will keep us in the game, so to speak? What is it about God’s Law that we can learn to keep us from becoming an outlaw or a lawyer?

That is a great question and one asked by an expert in law.

Mark 12:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard the Sadducees arguing. He noticed that Jesus had given the Sadducees a good answer. So he asked him, “Which is the most important of all the commandments?”

29 Jesus answered, “Here is the most important one. Moses said, ‘Israel, listen to me. The Lord is our God. The Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 And here is the second one. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no commandment more important than these.”

32 “You have spoken well, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one. There is no other God but him. 33 To love God with all your heart and mind and strength is very important. So is loving your neighbor as you love yourself. These things are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 Jesus saw that the man had answered wisely. He said to him, “You are not far from God’s kingdom.” From then on, no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.     NIRV

Your aim always improves when you love from the core of your being. Loving God means loving the wisdom and perfection of what he is teaching us. Loving your neighbour and loving yourself flows from the love you find in God.

Jesus says that all law is grounded in love. Until you know that and agree to it, you will resist the true nature of God. Jesus is the highest expression of God’s Law. He fulfills the law of God.

Are you convinced by the Holy Spirit that the ways of God are desirable? Listen to this ancient song of praise for the ways of God. Listen to effect that the love of God has on the fabric of our life.

Psalm 19:

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.
NKJV

Talk about exactly hitting the target… love will do all of these things to establish your heart, mind and soul. We are taught by perfect love and changed from outlaws and lawyers. We are lovers of God’s Law.

July 6, 2021

When You’re in Bondage

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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This is the third time we’ve featured the writing of Scott Savage whose writes frequently at the website of  Air1, a multi-location Christian 24/7 Praise and Worship radio station in the United States. Click the header which follows to read it there along with some social media graphics you can use.

How to Experience True Freedom in Christ

What snuck up on you over the last year or so?

Was it a sense of exhaustion and burnout with all the changes and time online?

Did you go back to normal clothes only to discover some unwanted weight gain?

Have you found an increased sense of cynicism about people and the future?

Are you finding your reactions more and more driven by anger?

Starving Baker Syndrome” snuck up on me last year. This syndrome is based on the old parable about a baker who finds himself drowning in overwork due to the success of his bakery. One day, his customers started forming their normal line outside his store before it opened. On this day, however, opening time came and went.

After a lot of grumbling and peering in the windows, a man showed up and dispersed the crowd with a shocking message. The bakery would not be opening as the baker had died. The customers were shocked to later learn the cause of death.

Starvation. How on earth could a baker starve surrounded by food?! The parable ends with a reminder that we can be surrounded by the food we eat, only to starve because we are consumed by feeding everyone but ourselves.

Starving Baker Syndrome snuck up on me because as a parent homeschooling kids and a pastor leading a church, I allowed myself to be consumed on far too many occasions by the needs of others. By the grace of God, I didn’t starve and the reality hit me with enough time to adjust. But, I was surprised when I found weariness and skepticism reared their ugly heads in my life.

Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God have a similar experience. Surrounded by everything they needed to enjoy freedom, the people had the Law, including reminders of what would happen if they abandoned their covenant with God. In addition to a record of God’s faithful love towards them, they celebrated annual festivals, reminding them of how God had moved on their behalf. Yet, they were wooed away from God by idols which left them in bondage.

While the people of God in the Old Testament were often wooed away by literal idols (man made images which they worshiped), many theologians have taught that you don’t need a physical image to worship in order to be practicing idolatry. In his book on this topic entitled Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller wrote,

An idol is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.

According to Keller, any gift from God can become our god. When we look to God’s gift to His creation rather than the Creator Himself for our hope, we surrender the freedom Christ purchased for us.

This is why the Apostle Paul pleaded with the believers in Galatia to remain vigilant about their freedom.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

Paul seemed to believe that spiritual bondage could sneak up on followers of Jesus who had experienced freedom in Christ. When we shift our heart’s affections away from Jesus and onto anything else, we’re moving away from freedom in Christ and towards idolatry.

Our idolatry reflects a foolish ignorance. Jesus has shown his willingness to give everything for our freedom and flourishing. As Paul later wrote in Romans, since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?

While you’re reflecting this summer on the freedom you’re enjoying as an American, consider the freedom which goes far beyond that – the freedom you have because of what Christ did for you on the cross and in the empty tomb!

In reflecting on your freedom in Christ, consider spending some time with these 3 questions: 

1. What did I do the last time I was overwhelmed?

2. What is my reason for hope about the future?

3. What is my source of confidence amidst my current challenges?

After you answer those questions, compare your answers to these two reminders of our identity. In his new song, “House of the Lord,” Phil Wickham points us to the truth of 1 Peter 2:9-10. Phil sings:

“Now we’re royalty
We were the prisoners
Now we’re running free.”

We don’t know if Peter sang as beautifully as Phil, but he did write this poetic reminder of our identity as people freed in Christ.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

We may have been born into freedom as Americans, but we weren’t born into spiritual freedom. Our eternal freedom is only made possible by trusting Jesus alone. This weekend, pause and give thanks for your freedom in Christ!


Related Content: “House of the Lord” by Phil Wickham


Scott Savage is a pastor and a writer who leads Cornerstone Church in Prescott, Arizona. He helps hurting people forgive others through his Free to Forgive course and you can read more of his writing at scottsavagelive.com


Subscribers: In the introduction to yesterday’s devotional and its writer, we used the terms he and his (no less than four times!) when it should have been she and her. We’ve corrected the text, apologized to the writer and apologize to you for the error.

 

September 23, 2020

It’s About Grace, Not Works

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re introducing a new writer to you who we discovered through a WordPress feed. Mathew Simon lives in North Carolina with his wife and three children and has written several articles on the subject of works (trying to achieve standing with God based on what we do for him.) Back in July he wrote:

If we are judging others based on our good deeds, length of prayers, the donations we give, or the number of times we go to Church, then we are boasting in our own self-righteousness. But Jesus said that the sinner who comes to Him with sincere repentance and faith is the one who is justified (made righteous).

Today we’re highlighting his writing with two shorter, more recent articles. Click the titles below of each of these to read at his page.

Making Jesus Lord by works? The false gospel of Lordship salvation

There are some Churches that say that unless you “surrender” your life and make Jesus your Lord and do the works, then you cannot be saved.

They say that a “saving” faith needs good works to prove that Jesus is your Lord and not just Savior.

They use these scriptures:

Matthew 7 “21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. “

James 2 ’17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself.”

Ok, let me ask you this, how many works do you need to prove that Jesus is your “LORD” ?

According to Jesus’ own words, He said this:

Luke 14 “26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…..33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up EVERYTHING you have cannot be my disciples.

So Jesus said to FORSAKE EVERYTHING and SELL EVERYTHING to the poor to be His disciples!

Luke 12 “31 But seek God’s Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you. 32 Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. 33 Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys.

OK how many Christians are disciples of Christ according to those verses? ZERO.

That shows that no Christians are doing the “works” of the Law commanded by Jesus to Israel.So then how do we really make Jesus the LORD.

It is not by anything we DO.

Jesus is ALREADY LORD.

He is the CREATOR of all things.

He does not need your works to become LORD of your life.

He created you and is GOD already.

This is how we ACCEPT Jesus as LORD – that you BELIEVE that He is LORD and GOD who died for your sins and rose from the dead!

Romans 10 ” 9 that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart, one believes resulting in righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made resulting in salvation.”

John 20 “28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

This is the WORK that you need to do to be SAVED – SIMPLY BELIEVE in Jesus for your own salvation. So simple.

John 6 “28 They said therefore to him, “What must we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

The work of faith is when we stop doing the actual works to attain salvation and simply TRUST in what Jesus has done for us.

Romans 4 “5 But to him who doesn’t work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…..who believe in him who raised Jesus, our Lord, from the dead, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.”

Jesus carried the cross for believers so we don’t have to!

Before the cross, when Israel was still under the Law, our Lord Jesus Christ told the 12 apostles to carry the cross.

Matthew 16 24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.”

So then Peter and all the apostles promised to be with Christ even unto death.

Luke 22 33He said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death!” 34He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will by no means crow today until you deny that you know me three times.”

Mark 14 29But Peter said to him, “Although all will be offended, yet I will not.” 30Jesus said to him, “Most certainly I tell you, that you today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31But he spoke all the more, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” They all said the same thing.

The disciples promised great things for the LORD but they could not even stay awake with Him while He prayed!!

Matthew 26 40He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What, couldn’t you watch with me for one hour?

But as we know, all the disciples ran away and Peter denied Christ three times.

Matthew 26 ” 56But all this has happened that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.”Then all the disciples left him and fled.

The truth is that none of us can carry the cross or follow Jesus – because in our flesh we are not righteous at all – But we need Jesus to die for our sins!

At the cross, we see that there was a thief on the cross who did nothing good at all. He did not promise to follow Jesus or do any big works! He was a sinner condemned but then He believed in Christ to be saved by GRACE through faith without any works!

Luke 23 “42He said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”43Jesus said to him, “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

Everyone who believes in Christ without trusting in their works is forgiven ALL sin and given the free gift of His righteousness to go to heaven forever! AMEN.

April 27, 2020

We Don’t Deserve It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NLT II Tim. 1:9 For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.

Sometimes people will tell you they’re reading and a verse “just leaps off the page.” I’ve known that to be true, but I also find in a world of podcasts, audio books and sermon videos, sometimes a verse that someone is reading hits you as though for the first time.

It’s often because the person reading really knows the verse or passage in question and are able to bring it with the authority the writer intended.

That was the case with today’s opening verse. I can’t remember who was speaking, but I quickly set the playback a few minutes so I could hear it again and write down the reference. This verse in 2 Timothy reminds me of another passage that has been meaningful to me in more recent years.

CEV Titus 3:4 But “when God our savior’s kindness and love appeared, 5 he saved us because of his mercy, not because of righteous things we had done. He did it through the washing of new birth and the renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 which God poured out upon us generously through Jesus Christ our savior.

(We looked previously at this passage in this article.)

The key phrase in both verses speaks to the idea that we did nothing to deserve this favor or mercy. “Not by works of righteousness that we have done” (the Titus passage in the KJV) and “Not according to our works” (the Timothy passage, in the NASB).

In Romans Paul says the well-known words, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (5:8) Eugene Peterson in The Message renders these words as,

MSG Rom. 5:6-8 Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

(This passage was actually the text of the sermon we heard preached in the Spanish church we visited in Cuba a few months ago.)

– o – o – o –

So why is there a stray quotation mark in the Titus passage? It appears in verse 4 and (for you OCD people!) the quotation continues to the end of verse 7. In the NLT the passage is indented. In the NIV, there are no such notations in the text.

Furthermore, N.T. Wright and Michael Bird, in the recently released The New Testament in its World introduce the idea that a majority of scholars feel Paul didn’t write the pastoral epistles at all, but two sentences later includes Titus 3:5 in a short list of passages that are “quintessentially Pauline.” (p.362)

I spent a long time online and with most of my go-to print commentaries seeing no mention of this.

The key is apparently verse 8:

This is a trustworthy saying

But then Ruth suggested the NET Bible notes which say,

Verses 4-7 are set as poetry in [certain original manuscripts]. These verses probably constitute the referent of the expression “this saying” in verse 8. This is … a single skillfully composed sentence in Greek showing the goals of God’s merciful salvation…

This would make it similar to the Philippian Hymn of Philippians 2 which is more commonly indented in a larger number of translations. So if we use that passage as our guide, and say, ‘This was a hymn that was commonly known to the people to whom Paul was writing,’ we would have to say the same thing here.

Or conversely, Paul may have been doing a centuries-ahead-of-his time thing that the manuscripts the NET Bible translators checking the early manuscripts observed, and that is including what we today call a “shout out” or “call out” in the text to highlight a particular word or phrase. Remember, they had no bold face font, no italics, no large font, no underlining and no colored ink process at their disposal. If you were trying to make a point, you either made in prose or poetry or by the sheer force of the words themselves.

It makes the passage more noteworthy, and that means it bears repeating here (and may I suggest bears memorizing), all the way to the end of verse 7 and with this we conclude, quoting from the NET Bible itself.

4“when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, 5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.”

 

 

 

April 22, 2020

The Forgiveness/Bitterness Dichotomy

Simon the Pharisee throws a party: The painting, Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee by Rubens, c. 1618. (via Wikipedia) Notice the woman at Jesus’ feet. See scripture below.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” – Jesus, The Lord’s Prayer (in the Sermon on the Mount)

“Detach the fetters of faults that bind us,
like we let go the guilt of others.” – Lord’s Prayer as translated from Aramaic (full text in C201 1.27.19)

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” – Also Sermon on the Mount

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Apostle Paul, writing to the Ephesians (4:32, NIV)

At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”
Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven. – Dialog found in Matthew’s Gospel (18:21-22, The Message)

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. – Jesus teaching, as recorded by Mark (11:25)

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” – Luke’s account of Jesus responding to Simon’s objections to Jesus reaching out to a disreputable woman at a party Simon was hosting. (Full account in 7:36-50)

So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him...
When you forgive this man, I forgive him, too. And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes.
– Paul, in a second letter to the Corinthians on reshaping their approach toward a man in the church who was the object of church discipline. (2: 8,10,11 NLT)


Keep a fair-sized cemetery in your back yard, in which to bury the faults of your friends. (Henry Ward Beecher)

Many suppose forgiveness has been granted by making a pronouncement to that effect. Proclaiming forgiveness is easy; forgiving is difficult and a challenge to a person’s soul. The practice of forgiving requires a poor memory. – Russell Young (C201 9.5.17)

Maybe we’re afraid that by demonstrating grace and mercy we will seem weak on sin. Need that be so? Jesus spoke to the heart, not to the behavior. As demonstrated in the John 8 story, He told [the woman caught in adultery] to sin no more, but by His act of mercy, He also demonstrated love! – Rick Apperson (C201 1.18.15)

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship… – Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship


A year ago we introduced you to the writing of Matt Tullos and today we’re back at his site again.

Forgiveness is More about You Than Them

All was well in the Amish community in Lancaster Pennsylvania until a deranged man mercilessly shot 10 Amish girls and then turned the gun on himself in 2006. How did they respond to this shocking loss? Amazingly, the Amish community didn’t blame. Instead, they reached out with grace and compassion toward the killer’s family. They understood the importance of forgiveness, not for the killer’s sake. He was dead. But for themselves. Why? Because living in unforgiveness is debilitating.

Most of us will not have to endure that depth of offense. Most bitter people didn’t become a bitter person through the act of a single dagger. Most bitter people are dying from a thousand paper-cuts. The girl that rejected him… The backroom deal in the company that cost him a promotion… The humiliation experienced years ago from a father’s rage… Whether we can reconcile the relationship or not, we must forgive.

We get stuck. We fantasize about vindication. We look at relationships surrounding the offense with malice. We cling to bitterness as our beverage of choice. We talk about it to people who have no business hearing of it. We dream about going back, doing things differently, saying something more damaging, or avoiding the offense. For many, this becomes a lifestyle that poisons every relationship they enter. It’s insidious.

Jesus is clear on this. In order to be forgiven, you must forgive. That’s easy to say but hard to do. And yet this is a primary hallmark of Christian manhood. It’s a heart issue. Who knows? Forgiveness might just save your life.

“He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” – George Herbert


 

April 21, 2020

We Live Our Lives Both as Offended and Offender

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This is our third time visiting The Serener Bright written by Ian Graham, pastor of the church Ecclesia, located in West Trenton, New Jersey. As always, bless our contributors with some traffic by clicking the headers which appear below these introductions to read at source.

Psalm 35: Enemy Intelligence

If you’ve ever felt like the world is aligned in a conspiracy against you, Psalm 35 is for you. David doesn’t so much write as he shouts protests:

They hid their net for me without cause
    and without cause dug a pit for me,
may ruin overtake them by surprise—
    may the net they hid entangle them,
    may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.   (7-8)

For many of us, we read Psalm 35 and feel like telling David, “Look, man, you’re just having a bad day, the lady who told you you need two forms of verified ID at the DMV is not a cosmic enemy plotting alongside Satan to ruin your life.” Our modern way of naming enemies is by establishing who’s in our camp and who’s not. The people on the other side of the spectrum are the bad, nefarious people while those within our state borders are given the benefit of good faith and good intentions.

Psalm 35 affirms our suspicions that enemies are a part of life. David doesn’t call role, naming these individuals but he identifies them by their injustice and their glee when troubles befall him:

Ruthless witnesses come forward;
    they question me on things I know nothing about.
 They repay me evil for good
    and leave me like one bereaved.   (11-12)

David promises that he will delight in the Lord and rejoice in his salvation (v. 9), but these unnamed enemies glean their joy from sorrow in David’s life (v. 15). They are mockers, slanderers, engaging in the verbal pornography of gossip and secretly fist-pumping when they get a report that something ill or painful has befallen David (vv.15-16).

You may or may not be able to name people in your life who fit this description. Psalm 35 is acknowledging that this is the way of the world, a way of conflict and alienation. This leads us to the second way that Psalm 35 bears witness to us in how we are to live and move in a world fraught with enemies.

Notice how David responds to the presence of his enemies. He does not lash out in anger and righteous retribution. He goes to great length to describe his own innocence, even noting how when he got updates on those who now mock him, when he heard that they were in anguish, he mourned alongside them, as if he were grieving the loss of his own mother (vv. 13-14). We love nothing more in our society and in our stories than when a person, a people, or an entity get what’s coming to them. We say yes and amen to vindicating vengeance either by the law or other means. But David doesn’t become a vigilante for his own victimhood.

Rather, David prays to God. He acknowledges that God is his judge and deliverer. David opens with the plea:

Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me. 
Take up shield and armor;
    arise and come to my aid. 
Brandish spear and javelin
    against those who pursue me.
Say to me,
    “I am your salvation.”   (1-3)

David knows that he is imperiled because of his enemies but he also knows that only the Lord can release him from their snares. He foreshadows what the apostle Paul will instruct the Roman church to do in Romans 12vv17-19:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Jesus will tell those listening that they are not simply to refrain from vengeance, they are to love their enemies. Psalm 35 is a long way from the way Jesus will unmask our true enemies (sin and death) but it gives us a way to live in the world that is often contentious, where people wittingly and unwittingly often live as our enemies.

But in light of Jesus’ teachings, Psalm 35 leaves us with a much more haunting question. Jesus says, don’t look at the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s eye while ignoring that there is a 2 X 4 sticking out of your own eye (Matthew 7). Jesus compels us to reread Psalm 35 asking ourselves not simply how have we been wronged by others, but how have we, ourselves, been an enemy to others? You see, we live our lives as both offended and offender, and the witness of Jesus declares to all, there is grace for both—forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us (also, providentially, Matthew 7).

April 8, 2020

Jesus Took His Place… and Mine

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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An astounding 30 of the 89 accumulative chapters in the four gospels cover the period beginning with Christ’s Triumphal Entry through His resurrection and post-resurrection appearances. Mathematically this means that approximately 33% of the written material in the Gospels deals with a mere .05% period of His life! In the providence of God we have a much greater proportion of Scriptural revelation dealing with God’s greatest act of mercy in providing our redemption.

-Daily Encouragement


Today we’re back with our online friends Stephen and Brooksyne Weber who write devotions at DailyEncouragement.net … click the header below to read this at source, where you’ll also find another perspective on the story.

Barabbas

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

“Then he (Pilate) released Barabbas to them” (Matthew 27:26).

“Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).

But they cried out all together, saying, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!” (Luke 23:18).

“Not this man, but Barabbas” (John 18:40).

…When we were young Christians back in the seventies we were blessed by a song with the intriguing title, “I Should Have Been Crucified” written and sung by Gordon Jensen. The song is enjoying a resurgence by various Southern Gospel artists, and once again the words speak directly to our hearts.

The lyrics bring about a great message about the Biblical doctrine of substitutionary atonement. But only one person in history could have sung or spoken that message in a literal sense; Barabbas, who was released from prison in exchange for Christ who took his place. Throughout the remainder of his life Barrabas could have said, “I should have been crucified”, and perhaps he did.

I should have been crucified,
I should have suffered and died.
I should have hung on the cross in disgrace,
But Jesus, God’s Son, took my place.

The Scriptures tell us very little about Barabbas and nothing about what became of him following his brief appearance in the Gospels as Christ’s substitute. He was a “notorious prisoner” (Matthew 27:16) who had been involved in murder and sedition (Luke 23:19). John 18:40 reports that he had taken part in a rebellion so in Roman law he deserved to die.

But he was released at the trial of Jesus, as the crowd clamored, “No, not him. Give us Barabbas!” I wonder what ran through his thoughts when he heard the crowd’s demands?

Since he was in the city it’s not unreasonable to assume that he witnessed the crucifixion, or at least the events leading up to it. What did this murderer think? When he was sitting powerless in the prison day after day, surely his mind had traveled numerous times to the place of execution where he would soon receive the death penalty for his sins.

What kind of emotions welled up within him as he witnessed Christ taking his place? Was his heart changed after seeing an innocent man die in place of a guilty man who was now set free? Did he eventually turn to the Lord who had become his literal physical substitute on the cross? Heaven will have many of “the rest of the stories” that we’ve only been privy to in a few chapters here on earth!

Bible teacher Donald Grey Barnhouse writes these thoughts concerning Barabbas:

He was the only man in the world who could say that Jesus Christ took his physical place. But I can say that Jesus Christ took my spiritual place. For it was I who deserved to die. It was I who deserved that the wrath of God should be poured on me. I deserved the eternal punishment of the lake of fire. He was delivered up for my offenses. He was handed over to judgment because of my sins — Christ was my substitute. He was satisfying the debt of divine justice and holiness. That is why I say that Christianity can be expressed in the three phrases: I deserved hell; Jesus took my hell; there is nothing left for me but His heaven.

In several ways Barabbas is a type of the redeemed through all the ages.

  • We, like Barabbas, are guilty, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God(Romans 3:23).
  • We, like Barabbas, justly deserve death, For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
  • We, like Barabbas, are essentially passive as Jesus takes our place. There’s no suggestion that Barabbas had anything at all to do with his release. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6). God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

What was done to Jesus should have been done to Barabbas—and to each one of us. We can all rightly declare, “I should have been crucified.”  But Jesus, God’s Son, took my place! Today, let us renew our commitment to this marvelous Savior and reaffirm our faith in Christ, who was crucified for us!

 

July 10, 2019

A Theology of Hospitality and Recovery

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

Several months back we introduced the devotional blog, Partners in Hope Today. You can also listen to today’s devotional.

I’d like to add something to the first paragraph below. It could easily be applied to introverts. I have a few of these in my family and I am only beginning to understand how that can limit some types of fellowship.

When you think about it, what other factors could limit someone’s approach to hospitality?

Click the header below to read at source.

Hospitality and Recovery

Some of us in recovery lack the quality of being hospitable.  We do not care to be around others.  We give our attention to our own needs and have forgotten, or perhaps never learned, the social skill of thoughtfulness towards others.  Our loving God created us to be in relationship with Him and with one another and we are out of sync with our humanness when we behave in other ways.

Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him.  He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. (Acts 17:26-27 MSG)

Although we may not vocalize it, some of us tend to think this way, “Why should God and others care about me when I really don’t care about them?”  However, we are made to be hospitable and care for one another.  Jesus gave us a commandment to love one another.  This is not a suggestion.  God knows what is best for us and He made us to live in community with one another.

This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you.  This is the very best way to love.  Put your life on the line for your friends.  (John 15:12-13 MSG)

Going to a recovery meeting for the first time can be intimidating, but if we are warmly greeted by others we will be encouraged to stay.  When attendees share their experience, strength, and hope with us, they are being hospitable, and desire that what they share will be of help to us.

Love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  (1 Peter 4:8-9 NIV)

Hospitality is the human way of caring for one another.  It begins with one person helping another to find their way out of the maze of self-centeredness.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Sometimes I want to hide from others because of the guilt I feel about my past life.  Help me to accept Your forgiveness and live in the dignity of being Your child.  Help me to put Your Word and Your ways into practice.  Help me to be hospitable as I share the experience, strength, and hope I experience in belonging to You.  Amen


Related articles:


Go Deeper: 21 Bible Passages on Hospitality.

April 18, 2019

Compelling Grace, Part 2

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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How Loving Others Points to God

by Clarke Dixon

For a worldview or religion to be compelling you would expect it to nurture good relationships. This is especially true where offence is involved. Where there are relationships, there are hurting people, for people hurt people. We are human. If a worldview or religion is true, we should expect that it will help us relate to one another and navigate the nasty quirks of our humanity.

Does Christianity provide a compelling vision for relationships including a method of dealing with offence? Some would say “no, Christianity is all rules which makes people get all judgemental.” Others would say, “no, Christianity is all forgiveness which turns people into doormats.” So which is it?

Last week we looked at the compelling way God relates to us. To summarize, God’s relationship with us is based on His grace, not our performance. How are we to relate to others?

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)

As God relates to us, we relate to others; with love and grace. Consider the following verses:

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . .
10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. . . .
16 God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.  We love each other because he loved us first.
 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:7,10,16-21 (NLT)

We are to relate to others in the same manner God relates to us; with love and grace. There are some things we can say about this . . .

First, grace provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships. Some relationships are like sailing in a thunderstorm or like walking on eggshells. Fear is a constant. However, “perfect love expels all fear.” God drives out our fear for He does not treat us as our sins deserve (see Psalm 103), but rescues us, and relates to us, by his grace. What is true with our relationship with God can also be true in our relationship with others. Grace provides a great fear-free atmosphere for people to thrive in growing relationships. In marriage, in family, among friends, at the workplace, in teams, the experience of grace given and received provides a great atmosphere to live, work and play.

Second, grace provides a compelling response to offence. People often deal with offence by either “fight or flight.” Neither work well. The Christian is to do neither. Rather than lash out and risk an all out war, we are to turn the cheek. Some will say that is not at all compelling. Won’t people will walk all over us and take advantage of our grace? Well, no, grace provides for a flexibility in responding to offence.

Suppose a spouse is abused again and again, and each time the abused spouse is expected to forgive the abuser as if nothing ever happened. Is that compelling? No. I call this “doormat grace.” Some would say this is the vision of Christianity in dealing with offence, but it is not. The Bible teaches the need for grace, love, and forgiveness in relationships, yes, but the Bible also teaches the need for wisdom. The Book of Proverbs is still in the Bible! We need not offer doormat grace, but wise grace. Grace toward offenders means wanting the best for them, it does not mean putting up with the worst for yourself. When you respond with grace, you do not seek the destruction of the offender, but neither do you open yourself up for destruction. The gracious person turns the other cheek instead of hitting back. The wise person also takes a step back.

Grace, when applied with wisdom, sounds like this: “I will not seek your harm, though I think you deserve it, however, I do not trust you and so have set boundaries so that you can not harm me further. There may be opportunities for changing these boundaries in the future, but right now I discern these to be appropriate for my own safety and well-being.” Grace leads to not seeking revenge. It does not lead to acting as if the offence never happened, that trust has never been broken. Wisdom considers trust. Grace considers the possibility of future relationship. Wisdom considers the possibility of future harm. Grace leads to treating people better than they deserve. Wisdom leads to not letting people treat you worse than you deserve.

Grace in relationships is compelling. It provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships and a compelling response to offence which includes flexibility in applying wisdom in responding to offence. Within Christian relationships there is space for growth, reconciliation, boundaries, and safety for oneself. Christianity when practiced in emulation of God, in the Spirit of Christ, and keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, provides a compelling vision for relationships, including a compelling method of dealing with offence. The manner in which Christians are to relate to others is really compelling. This is no surprise of course, for it comes from a real God.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

 

April 28, 2018

Justly, Kindly, Humbly

Today we’re introducing you to a writer appearing for the first time here at C201. Martha Anderson has been writing devotions at Strengthened by Grace since January, 2014 and is the author of four books available on Lulu.com as she explains at her site:

One is “Food for the Soul,” and it takes you through forty-five Old Testament daily devotionals, complete with some explanation and application questions. The second was just finished, “More Food for the Soul,” with seventy-eight New Testament daily devotionals…There are also three books that take you chronologically through Jesus’ life, “Jesus Changes Everything and He is Changing Me.” The 4th one takes you through the book of Acts.

To learn more click this link. Click the title below to read today’s devotional at source. I’ve added a song at the end which is based on today’s key scripture.

How to please God

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

The prophet Micah was asking about how to please God in Micah 6.  He asked if he should come before God with thousands of animals for burnt offerings or ten thousands of rivers of oil to burn incense as a fragrant offering.   In today’s terms we might ask if we should go to church three times a week, become a missionary, or give all of your money to a good cause.

No, the answer is still the same.   God gives a picture of His true heart for how we should live in a way that pleases Him.  We should pursue justice, to love kindness and to be humble.  God’s answer to Israel and to us is today’s verse:  pursue justice, love kindness and be humble before God and others.

We find a similar response in Isaiah 58.  In that chapter, God told the people of Israel that even though they sought Him daily and even fasted to be religious, it didn’t amount to much.  God told them if they really wanted to please Him they should end wickedness, oppression, and injustice, to feed the hungry and take in the homeless.

The justice that we are to pursue isn’t just for ourselves; it is for those who have no voice.  It might be for those who don’t have the financial resources to get a good lawyer, or for children and the unborn.   God wants us to see others that are not as well off as we are and find ways to help them.

We are not to get confused and to think that ‘social justice’ is the Gospel, as some movements do.   But if I live a grace and truth filled, joyful and Jesus centered life–that should make me different. It should make me incredibly generous, and quick to embrace the messy people who have more needs than I can meet. I should be looking for ways to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

My eyes should always be looking outward, not in at my own safe little heterogeneous group or navel gazing at myself. One of my capstone verses is John 10:16 where Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold, I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice.”

Micah 6:8 mentions both justice and kindness. Synonyms for kindness are: gentleness, affection, warmth, concern and care.   This is a fruit of the Spirit, so as I am walking in the Spirit, kindness should be front and center. That slogan about practicing ‘random acts of kindness’ is kind of funny. Really, we should be practicing ‘intentional and well thought out acts of kindness on a regular basis.’ But that doesn’t make for a good t-shirt slogan.

Finally, God wants us to be humble.  It is easier to think about the opposite trait, which is pride.  James 4:6 tells us, “God oppose the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  And in Philippians 2:3 Paul writes, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  As Tim Keller said in The Art of Self Forgetfulness, “It’s not that you think less of yourself, it’s that you think of yourself less.” That’s what God is looking for. The thing about humility is that when you achieve it, no one will notice!

If you want to know how to please God, here it is: stand up for someone who can’t speak for him or herself, do an intentional and well thought out act of kindness daily, and make sure you don’t get the credit for it.

November 22, 2017

Changing Values in our World

Today I want to introduce you to Jay Mankus who writes at Express Yourself 4 Him. This is a goldmine of devotional resources and new content has been faithfully posted daily since February 2012. Deciding which article to showcase here was so tough that I’m presenting two. Click the individual titles to read at source.

Don’t Go There or Else

There is a new movement emerging from members of the media, seeking to destroy naysayers, opponents and those possessing opposing worldviews.  This rush to judgment ignores the concept of innocent until proven guilty.  Instead of waiting until the facts to come out during a trial, the severity of recent accusations are more than enough to presume guilt.  Where did this mentality come from and what does the Bible say to address this issue?

He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities, Psalm 103:10.

According to David, God does not treat human beings as they deserve.  According to Psalm 103:12, God’s love is infinite, “as far as the east is from the west.”  If God is willing to show forgiveness, grace and mercy to undeserving sinners, why is the mainstream media so quick to condemn.  Have the elite been offended by conservatives in the past?  Is this recent response some sort of pay back for previous hypocritical actions?  Whatever the reason, sometimes you have to use common sense by replying, “don’t go there.”

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times, Matthew 18:21-22.

There was an unspoken belief that forgiveness should be limited in the first century.  Sensing a good opportunity to address this topic, Jesus shares the parable of the Unmerciful Servant.  Attempting to shatter any stereotypes on forgiveness, Jesus illustrates God’s mercy on those who are unable to pay back earthly debts accrued over time.  God the Father bestows grace on those who beg for mercy.  Yet, lip service is disregarded unless individuals reciprocate mercy by doing to others as you want others to do unto you.  In other words, don’t go there or else.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins, Matthew 6:14-15.

The or else part of this equation was addressed by Jesus earlier in the book of Matthew.  At the conclusion of the portion of Scripture known as the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father, Jesus emphasizes the conditional aspect of forgiveness.  Yes, I did say conditional, based upon how you treat other people.  In next chapter, Matthew 7 builds upon this concept proclaiming, ” the measure to which you judge others will be used against you.”  Therefore, despite whatever differences you may have against others, make sure your remember to live out the Golden Rule.  Don’t seek revenge or the grace of God will turn it’s back on you.

Character Education

As societies evolve, the meaning of words change to reflect this evolution.  In the early stages of American history, character referred to personality, nature and qualities.  One of the synonyms for character is ethos, where we derive the Greek term ethics.  Ethics is the system of philosophy where individuals develop their basis for defining right and wrong.  Today, character education focuses on an initiative to foster global citizenship.

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out, Proverbs 10:9.

Based upon the United Nations global education initiative, character education is based upon three core philosophies: humanism, socialism and utilitarianism.  Utilitarianism teaches actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority.  Socialism advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.  Finally, humanism denies the presence of a Creator, seeking solely rational ways of solving human problems.  Signed by former president Obama, this curriculum is now being implemented into public education within K-12 schools across the country.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect, Romans 12:2.

When I first heard of Character Education on the Rush Limbaugh Show, I thought this sounds good, a step in the right direction.  Yet, as I began to hear and read more about this as a former teacher, I was horrified.  This attempt to erase the biblical influences within the foundation of America is unsettling.  Nonetheless, unless parents begin to challenge what their children are being taught, the true history of America will be forgotten.  May this blog awaken believers to stand up to this indoctrination by studying and teaching God’s divine intervention upon the founding fathers of this country.

January 11, 2017

Becoming a Person Given to Hospitality

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NLT Genesis 19:1 That evening the two angels came to the entrance of the city of Sodom. Lot was sitting there, and when he saw them, he stood up to meet them. Then he welcomed them and bowed with his face to the ground. 2 “My lords,” he said, “come to my home to wash your feet, and be my guests for the night. You may then get up early in the morning and be on your way again.”

“Oh no,” they replied. “We’ll just spend the night out here in the city square.”

3 But Lot insisted, so at last they went home with him. Lot prepared a feast for them, complete with fresh bread made without yeast, and they ate

I’ll grant you the above story doesn’t end well, but it was referred to by today’s writer, so I’ve included it. Today we’re paying a return visit to the website Bible Universe. In addition to the article — click the link below to read at site — I’ve also included a link to some additional resources they offer at the end of today’s reading.

Importance of Hospitality

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

In the twilight two strangers drew near to the city gate. They were apparently travelers coming in to tarry for the night. None could discern in those humble wayfarers the mighty heralds of divine judgment, and little dreamed the gay, careless multitude that in their treatment of these heavenly messengers that very night they would reach the climax of the guilt which doomed their proud city. But there was one man who manifested kindly attention toward the strangers and invited them to his home.

Lot did not know their true character, but politeness and hospitality were habitual with him; they were a part of his religion–lessons that he had learned from the example of Abraham. Had he not cultivated a spirit of courtesy, he might have been left to perish with the rest of Sodom. Many a household, in closing its doors against a stranger, has shut out God’s messenger, who would have brought blessing and hope and peace.

Every act of life, however small, has its bearing for good or for evil. Faithfulness or neglect in what are apparently the smallest duties may open the door for life’s richest blessings or its greatest calamities. It is little things that test the character. It is the unpretending acts of daily self-denial, performed with a cheerful, willing heart, that God smiles upon. We are not to live for self, but for others. And it is only by self-forgetfulness, by cherishing a loving, helpful spirit, that we can make our life a blessing. The little attentions, the small, simple courtesies, go far to make up the sum of life’s happiness, and the neglect of these constitutes no small share of human wretchedness.

Seeing the abuse to which strangers were exposed in Sodom, Lot made it one of his duties to guard them at their entrance, by offering them entertainment at his own house. He was sitting at the gate as the travelers approached, and upon observing them, he rose from his place to meet them, and bowing courteously, said, “Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night.” They seemed to decline his hospitality, saying, “Nay; but we will abide in the street.”

Their object in this answer was twofold–to test the sincerity of Lot and also to appear ignorant of the character of the men of Sodom, as if they supposed it safe to remain in the street at night. Their answer made Lot the more determined not to leave them to the mercy of the rabble. He pressed his invitation until they yielded, and accompanied him to his house.


Earlier I mentioned there would be a bonus link today to some other resources at Bible Universe. First of all some general interest ones:

  • Keys to Bible Symbols — a great help if you’re wanting to follow the thread of various “types” used in scripture or in terms of literary imagery.
  • Keys to Bible Numbers — similar to the above, but dealing with the meaning of different numbers.

Also, do you know a Christian who is also a medical doctor? Bible Universe (dot com) recently ran a series of three short devotionals to encourage people in that profession.

01/03/2017

Encouragement for the Christian Physician #3

01/02/2017

Encouragement for the Christian Physician #2

01/01/2017

Encouragement for the Christian Physician #1

December 15, 2016

The Prayer That Looks Inward

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. – Mark 11:25

So far we’ve said there are two nouns which are repeated in the common recitation of The Lord’s Prayer: heaven and kingdom. But there’s also a third word, a verb, which you could argue appears twice; its repetition necessary to the simile it sets up.

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.– Matthew 6:12

I want to focus on the word forgive today, so try not be distracted by whether or not you prefer debts or trespasses.

A few of the translations play around with the verb tense on this, but they are fairly unanimous in keeping the word forgive. (Exception is The Jubilee Bible: “And set us free from our debts, as we set free our debtors.”)

  • And forgive us our debts, as we also forgave our debtors. (DLNT)
  • and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (ESV and others)
  • And forgive us our debts as we forgive those who owe us something. (Voice)
  • Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. (Message)

There are several petitions in this prayer — for daily bread, to not be led into temptation, to be delivered from evil — but the request for forgiveness is conditional. The best example of a conditional promise is 2 Chronicles 7:14

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

There God is telling his people that if there is a drought, or if there is a plague, if they do X first, God will do Y.

This is also reminiscent of Matthew 10:8, but in the reverse.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. (NLT)

In this case it is implied that God has already done Y and now invites you to be an agent of X being received by someone else.

But we can’t twist that into a principle that would apply here as God saying something like, ‘I’ve already forgiven you so now you can freely forgive others.’ Rather, the text would point to something closer to, ‘If you want to experience my forgiveness, you’ll have to know first what it like to have forgiven others.’

There is of course the grace which goes before; what is termed prevenient grace. GotQuestions.org defines it as

a phrase used to describe the grace given by God that precedes the act of a sinner exercising saving faith in Jesus Christ. The term “prevenient” comes from the Latin and means ”to come before.” By definition, every theological system which affirms the necessity of God’s grace prior to a sinner’s conversion has a type of prevenient grace. The Reformed doctrine of irresistible grace is a type of prevenient grace, as is common grace.

Romans 5:8 reminds us that in terms of big picture forgiveness, what we experience when we come to Christ for the first time, God has already made the way; the pardon and peace is there, we just need to claim it:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Back to our primary text.

The Message version of the Lord’s Prayer verse is probably the best as it would indicate an ongoing process, a chain of grace, where we are constantly experiencing forgiveness ourselves, and meting out that forgiveness to others.

There’s also a sense here that, ‘you know (hopefully) what it is like to forgive someone for something, so you know how God forgives you.’

Again, while we’re looking at a New Testament text, Jesus was teaching this prayer in an Old Testament world. We’ve been using BibleStudyTools.org for this series, and the entry for the Hebrew word Callach meaning both ready to forgive and forgiving makes reference to Psalm 86:5

For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.

God’s predilection for forgiveness is something he is ready to do. But how long do we keep forgiving people who owe us (debts) or have injured us (trespasses)? Jesus answers that in Matthew 18:22

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

The NIV rendering of Luke 17:4 is even more explicit on the degree of forbearance being demanded of us:

…Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Paul echoes this in Colossians 3:13

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Proverbs 19:11b reminds us that the quality of forgiveness is an essential part of our character:

…it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense

Finally, James 2, 11-12 reminds us that it is essential to be an agent of mercy if we wish to experience it ourselves:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Jesus tells a parable about a man who received immeasurable forgiveness but failed to do the same for one who owed him a lesser amount. May that never be said of us.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Scriptures all NIV except where indicated


Darlene Merenick is a Canadian singer who died all too young a few years ago. I was able to hear this song performed live several times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 2, 2016

The Limits to Mercy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Occasionally we get a referral to an article on a blog which is new to us, only to discover the author has stopped writing. Still we wanted to share this February article with you today. This is a simply written response to a tough question that acknowledges its complexities. To read this at source click the title below. The author is Albert Wagner.

Is There A Limit To God’s Mercy?

This America can be a messed up place.

You can witness it on any given day.

People, while claiming to have their own reasons, go and repeatedly do the wrong thing – willfully and stubbornly, sometimes – while knowing deep down it is wrong.

They continue this process with the thought that a loving God will forgive them, because it states that in Scripture.

Sometimes the sin is minor (such as a white lie) and sometimes it is more significant (such as repeated cheating on a spouse).

But, in this case doing the wrong thing means the person knew better deep down. It might harm them financially or regarding their health, to use a few other examples, but it does not matter to them.

Some go to church on Sunday and ask for forgiveness and some don’t.

But the question for a spiritual blog is this:

Will God keep forgiving the same sin, or there a limit to God’s Mercy?

Jesus And Forgiving Sins

To begin with, here might be the thought process (for a Christian).

The Bible says that God forgives sin through the work of Jesus Christ. God is loving and wants his Creation to be saved.

1 John 1:8 reads,

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Jesus was asked by the disciples how many times they should forgive someone. Jesus said,

I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).

 So, there it is in the Bible. It sounds like God will forgive your sin, as long as you repent.

After all, sinning is often the easier choice, even if it means pain later.

People might think that as long as they end up in heaven in the long term, then what does it hurt anyone to sin now? They think in their minds that, as long as they end up in the same place, what does it hurt to sin?

A Life Of Sin

So what is there to stop you from going and sinning repeatedly, with the idea that you will be forgiven?

Limits to God's MercyIn fact, Scripture is clear those who do not live a changed life and habitually continue in sin are not true believers.

There is also a matter of interpretation.

Take Matthew 12:31, which reads,

“And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”

And, though this is a hard verse for some, one interpretation states this is speaking of those who do not repent. That means sincerely repenting, changing what you do and living a life of faith. It involves more than sitting in a church pew for one hour a week on Sunday.

Another relevant verse pertaining can be found in Matthew 5:48, where it reads,

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Please also remember that Scripture mentions the concept of hell in several places. However one interprets this idea, it sounds like God does have some limits on those who repeatedly do the wrong thing.

And, please remember: A person can have eternal salvation, yet still experience consequences of sin. Humans might not understand how that works, but it is important to consider.

In addition to these things, It is also said if you are aware of your sins and they bother you, then the Holy Spirit is working and speaking to you. This is a good thing. It is better to have your sin bother you than to sin with no remorse.

All in all, one should be careful in ascertaining these things, as your eternal salvation is dependent on it. That might sound obvious, but it might be worth pondering.

Scripture is not intended to be black and white, but something to be pondered.

You still have time to change, because as humans we are all probably guilty of this at one time or another.

Yes, God wants you to repent. However, he also wants you to continue to live a life of faith like he directed in the Gospels.

In the end, though, God is the judge and it is not based on human reasoning.

The opinion of the author is to try to be aware of your sins and repent.

 

May 10, 2016

The Bible Project: An Overview of the Book of Joel

If you haven’t already seen the fine work being done on video by The Bible Project, we couldn’t help observe that this is a perfect fit for us at Christianity 201. This overview of the writing of Joel (one of the ‘The Twelve’ or what we call the minor prophets) provides a great overview of this book.

Note: I would love to post the whole series here, but I know you come here daily for a teaching or inspirational writing that is written out in words, and some devotional websites can easily get lazy and just post videos. Still, feel free to use the comments or the contact page to let me know how this works for you. And really consider checking out The Bible Project on YouTube (link above) or subscribing to the channel.

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